What Empaths Need to Know About Anger
Anger is a hard emotion for empaths, and it’s an emotion that we tend to shy away from. Most empaths don’t feel comfortable being angry or expressing anger, and there are a few different reasons for this. Many of us were taught in childhood that we’re not allowed to be angry, or that it’s not appropriate to ever display anger in any way. Some of us were shamed for expressing anger, or were told that it’s “not nice” to be angry at someone, or grew up in a household where religious beliefs forced us into immediately turning the other cheek, sometimes mere moments after someone hurt us, and well before we were ready to even entertain the idea of forgiveness.
Anger is also a difficult emotion for empaths to handle because it can feel so overwhelming. Empaths have highly sensitive nervous systems and so a sudden rush of anger can feel overwhelming, disorienting, and even make us feel physically ill. We may experience dizziness or shortness of breath or vision problems, such as “seeing spots” or experiencing blurred vision. Empaths also usually have a long history of picking up on the anger of others, and so, if we’re around someone who has an angry outburst (or many of them, regularly) we may question if the anger we’re feeling actually belongs to us or not.
But the biggest reason that empaths have a hard time with anger is because we are constantly told that anger is “bad.” This comes from our upbringing, but also from our surrounding culture. Because so many people in society today experience anger and then lash out in extremely dysfunctional ways, anger has become stigmatized by the larger population. Anger is seen as a dangerous emotion. We hear that it’s not good to be angry, and that we should “work through it,” and “let it go,” and that being angry is “unhealthy.”
Some of these statements do contain truth, depending on the particular circumstances of the person who is experiencing anger and how they are handling it. But most of the time, these admonishments have the ring of forced forgiveness happening way too soon, and usually, when we hear someone repeating one of the above statements to us, it’s because they are specifically uncomfortable with our anger and how we are talking about it or handling it.
The truth is, anger is not “bad.” Anger is a normal and healthy emotion that all humans experience, and it does serve a necessary purpose. Anger naturally occurs whenever a person’s boundaries are violated, whether that’s a physical, emotional, or energetic boundary. Anger is the quick flare-up of intense irritation that alerts the person inwardly that someone or something has crossed a line. Someone has come into their space uninvited, or pushed up against a limit that has already been expressed. Anger jolts us out of daily complacency and says, “Wait a minute. That’s not okay and I am not okay with that.”
The energy of anger is intense, abrupt, and concentrated. I used the term “flare-up” for a reason, because anger is usually experienced as a “hot” energy, like fire. This is why great writers use descriptors for anger like, “smoldering,” “burning,” or “raging.” Anger is a form of fire energy, and like all fire energy, it can easily become destructive if it’s not held in balance. However, if the emotion of anger is held in balance, it can bring all the beautiful benefits of fire energy, which is the energy of change and purification. This is another reason it occurs naturally when boundaries are violated, because if a boundary is violated, something is not working and it needs to be changed, and it needs to be changed very quickly.
This is why anger is important, and healthy. A good dose of healthy anger is like a little boost of rocket fuel. It can propel us out of apathy, guilt, or shame and give us the injection of personal power we need to assert ourselves and say, “no more,” and then make the change that needs to be made.
Anger only becomes unhealthy and out of balance when we hold on to it for too long. If the initial burst of energy expresses itself and we don’t use it to make a change, but instead choose to sit in the role of the victim and focus on how we’ve been wronged and how horrible it was, and we avoid processing the truth of the experience, then anger turns into resentment. The clean fiery energy of anger then curdles into heavy, tar-like bitterness, which drags us right back down into apathy, guilt, and shame, all states of energy that are very limited and from which it’s extremely hard to exercise freedom or personal power.
So, there is a difference between healthy anger and unhealthy anger, but what I see far too often with empaths is that either they, or the people around them, are afraid of anger in any form, and so when it shows up, they immediately push it away, bury it or suppress it, simply because they are uncomfortable with it.
This is when I see empaths trying to push themselves into healing and forgiveness way too soon. They will usually go into overthinking as a way to avoid the anger, and they will spend a lot of time in this overthinking state trying to rationalize why they shouldn’t be angry, or how the person who hurt them is wounded themselves and so should be automatically forgiven. In effect, they are trying to shove themselves body-and-soul into instant compassion, when their emotional state is not yet ready to go there. If someone has just experienced a boundary violation — whether that’s catching someone in a lie, feeling manipulated by them, or going through a huge betrayal — then they are just not realistically going to be in an emotional state where they can access compassion, and that’s as it should be. It’s not helpful for us to forgive people when we haven’t even yet clocked the fact that a boundary was violated or made any decision about how we want to handle that boundary being broken.
I see this especially happen in the case of women when they tell their women friends about being angry. It is ingrained in women far more strongly than in men that it’s not okay to be angry. Women are usually vehemently shamed for any display of anger in childhood. We are also far more likely to be labeled “crazy” if we act out our anger in any physical way, such as throwing something or yelling. With my clients who are struggling with anger, it is usually their women friends who become the most uncomfortable with them talking about it, and try to get them to quickly let it go and shift into a different emotional state before they’re ready. I’ve heard people say that their friends told them anger is “bad energy” or “negative energy,” and that they need to clear it from their energy field as fast as possible.
Again, anger itself is not bad or negative, it’s how long we hold onto it that determines whether its effects are beneficial or harmful. And getting rid of anger as fast as possible isn’t helpful either, because we need to hold onto anger for as long as the boundary remains violated. This is super important. Anger always occurs when a boundary is violated. It is an emotion that activates change in the interest of self-protection. We need to stay activated in this way until we have taken action to ensure we are safe from the source of the boundary violation.
For empaths, there is an additional component at play because of our highly sensitive nervous systems and because of the way we take on emotions from others. As mentioned above, anger may feel physically overwhelming to us and/or we might not even be sure the anger we’re experiencing is ours. This is why it’s important for empaths to always give themselves time to process. We need a lot of time to process any emotion, but we need extra-extra time to process strong emotions like anger or deep sadness or shock.
If you are an empath experiencing anger, the best thing you can do is get to a place where you can be alone, uninterrupted, and where you feel safe. Take some time to journal about what you’re feeling or just sit quietly and feel into it. Don’t try to rationalize it and don’t let yourself go into overthinking about who was right or who was wrong. Just feel into the anger and ask why it is showing up. What boundary has been violated? Who violated it? Is that person still trying to test your limits? Are they invading your space, physically or energetically? What changes need to be made so that you feel secure in your boundaries again?
Once you have unpacked the situation and all the emotions surrounding it — including the anger — you will usually get some insight on what actually happened, why you feel so angry, and what needs to change. The initial burst of anger will most likely begin to naturally lessen at this point, and you may feel more calm and settled than you did even before the anger came on. Once you then identify exactly how the boundary that was violated needs to be reestablished and you start to take actual steps toward that resolution, the anger will usually fade away altogether.
Taking some time to yourself to unpack the situation will also make it clear whether or not the anger you’re feeling belongs to you. If you sit with yourself and examine the anger and it seems to have no discernible cause, and even after looking at it deeply and perhaps journaling about it, you still have no clue why anger seized you so suddenly, then it’s time to look around at your environment. Has your partner been experiencing anger due to boundary violations they’re dealing with from someone else? Are your coworkers angry with your manager and you’re all working in the same space? Are you especially close with a family member and they’re going through an angering situation? Asking yourself these kinds of questions is an effective way to uncover the source of any “mystery anger” you might be feeling out of nowhere.
Most importantly, empaths should know that they are allowed to be angry. You are allowed to feel frustrated, irritated, even enraged, with other people and you do not always need to push yourself immediately into understanding or forgiveness. In fact, you don’t ever need to forgive anyone at all if you don’t want to. Forgiveness is a highly personal, private matter between you and the other person (or between you and you because sometimes it’s better not to take the other person’s feelings into account at all), and you should never try to force yourself into forgiveness because someone else is laying some sort of guilt trip on you that it’s something you “should” do because anger is “bad energy.” That’s nonsense. If it doesn’t feel right, then it doesn’t feel right. Go with what feels right to you.
Anger is not something to be avoided, suppressed, or ignored. It exists for a reason and it has an important role to play in your life. The next time anger shows up, slow down and listen to what it’s trying to tell you.
Lauren Sapala is the author of The INFJ Writer, The INFJ Revolution, and the creator of Energy and Intuition for INFJs, an online course for INFJs on intuition, relationships, creativity, and more. She is also currently offering a free copy of her book Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers to anyone who signs up for her newsletter. SIGN UP HERE to get your free copy.